July 1, 2013

Rausing responds: Granta “moving on”

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Is it the age of austerity at Granta?

On Friday, Granta‘s online editor, Ted Hodgkinson, announced via Twitter that he was leaving the company to join the British Council. Hodgkinson had been at Granta for the last three years; he is the eighth longtime staffer to leave in the last two months amid a larger restructuring—Granta also closed its New York office and announced that Faber & Faber would be taking on its international sales; after executive publisher Philip Gwyn-Jones announced his departure a month ago, owner Sigrid Rausing said she would be taking on a larger role running the company’s day-to-day operations.

Although Granta has released a series of statements over the last two months, it has struggled to control the narrative. While Rausing did speak to The Guardian‘s Alison Flood last month about the recent turmoil—which one insider called a “shit storm”—her take on recent events, as we wrote at the time, was contradicted by departing editor John Freeman in the same piece.

Last Friday, Rausing gave it another go. Shortly after Hodgkinson announced his departure on Twitter, The Bookseller published a short piece by Rausing, “Moving On,” in which she acknowledges the substantial changes the prestigious journal is undergoing. Granta also published a statement revealing personnel changes on its website.

Between Rausing’s piece in The Bookseller and the statement on Granta’s website, one gets a much better sense about what Granta‘s editorial structure looks like after the (potentially ongoing) spate of high profile departures—while a considerable amount of insecurity still clouds the company’s future, it does seem slightly less rudderless than it did a couple weeks ago (so I guess it has, like, a quarter of a rudder now, or something?)

Gwyn Jones and Patrick Ryan, who are both enormously talented, will still be working with Granta, though in lesser  roles—Gwyn Jones has joined the magazine’s new editorial board, while Ryan will continue to edit for the magazine on a freelance basis. Yuka Igarashi, who has been with the company for “some years now,” has been promoted to managing editor; Clinic‘s Rachael Allen has been brought in to replace Hodgkinson. Finally, fulfilling Rausing’s promise to bring more “synergy” (ugh) to Granta, Laura Barber, Bella Lacey, Max Porter, Anne Meadows, and Ka Bradley, who are all editors at Granta Books, will also “will also be involved in some aspects of the magazine commissioning and editing process.”

In her piece for The Bookseller, Rausing is straight-forward and admirably undefensive in acknowledging the ongoing turmoil at Granta, which she acknowledges several times:

There has been much media speculation about the recent changes at Granta.

Authors and agents are understandably nervous about the future, because several senior people are leaving the company. Here is what we have done and what we are planning to do….

It’s a big shake-up. Some of it was planned and some of it wasn’t, but the unexpected changes at the magazine have given me the opportunity to rethink the roles within the company, and to address the fundamental questions of who we are and where we are going.

Four years ago I wrote that excessive commerciality can potentially undermine independent publishing. It can lead to risk-avoidance, and a tendency to copy others. I haven’t changed my mind about that, but equally we had to address our losses, and build a leaner structure. That’s what we have now done. The literary focus, and the acquisitions budget, will remain the same. We have an experienced and enthusiastic editorial team. The prospective editor-in-chief (we are still looking) will bring books and magazine closer together, both editorially, and in terms of back office functions. The books add value to the magazine, and vice versa.

Excessive commerciality certainly can undermine independent publishing; so can risk-avoidance; so can the tendency to copy others, whatever that means. But the issue with Granta, looking forward, is that it’s lost a truly exceptional editorial core and that may end up causing the company to lose more money, rather than make more: considering the flurry of departures, I’m not sure that a “leaner structure” can achieve what its departing editorial team have accomplished (though the 100,000 subscribers it claimed upon Freeman’s departures strikes me as a bit high).

In her editorial for The Bookseller, Rausing wants to frame the question of Granta‘s direction as an existential one—”of who we are and where we are going”—but the decisions to change sales teams and to close its New York office (to say nothing of the neoliberal buzzword “synergy”) make it clear that the recent turmoil is based on economic, rather than existential, factors. We’ll see if a leaner, synergized Granta can live up to the hype.

 

Alex Shephard is the director of digital media for Melville House, and a former bookseller.

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